Thankful … Day 5

Well, I have to be thankful for a most magnificent moon again, big and orange as we headed downtown Westminster for Common Ground on the Town. Christopher James was playing at Johanssons, and I really like his playing, singing, and songwriting.

We were at Common Ground’s Roots Festival all day. The music was awesome, and it was really nice to get a few minutes of chat in with some of the people who were in the songwriting class I took a couple of weeks ago. I got to hear Josh Hisle and Dan Collins again (fantastic!). Hot Tuna was phenominal, as you can imagine. I’m thankful that the day was so spectacular. I feel connected to music and musicians in a whole new way.

In the Company of Songwriters

It’s funny how you can walk into something with certain expectations but walk away with something you didn’t bargain for – something much better.

I spent mornings last week attending a songwriting class from Common Ground on the Hill. Josh Hisle, an Iraq war veteran, led the sessions along with his friend Dan Collins – both accomplished songwriters with an apparent passion for sharing their skills (links to their sites are below). I signed up for the class thinking I would learn about crafting songs – structure, form, and how to connect to your audience. We didn’t really touch on how to actually write songs in the context of verse-chorus-bridge-hook-etc., but my takeaway was that songwriters write about things that speak to them. Those things could be war, family, memories, feelings, characters, or even chickens. The other takeaway was that it’s okay to be nervous when you perform in front of people and that nervousness will probably diminish as you perform more often.

It turned out that everyone was expected to participate, whether singing or speaking his or her song/poem. Since I haven’t written anything since high school (expect for that Martin Lifespan strings contest entry a couple of years ago), I had to dust off a couple of songs. Actually, I not only had to dust them off but also had to add to and update them. Which brings me to another interesting fact about the class – everyone provided the story behind how the song/poem came to be written. That was awesome, not something we usually get when listening to a song on the radio.

I explained that the first song I was going to share with the class was written in 1974. I had been telling the women where I worked a summer job that I wrote and performed a song for the high school talent show. One of the women told me to write her a love song. I told her to give me a line, and at that moment she looked down at her smock and said, “My uniform is dirty.” I said, “Great, that will be a line in the song.” I believe she thought I was nuts.

I wrote the song, although it was short and not structured well. I pulled this song out of my binder, added a bridge and some new words in the verses, and sang it the next day for the songwriters. After class, one of the girls came up to me and asked if I ever told the women I finished the song. I don’t recall if I did. So the girl said I should let her know. After a little Internet searching, I found that the woman passed away several years ago. So now I guess I’ll flex my songwriting skills and write a song about missing the opportunity to let the woman know (her name was Joann, by the way) that I finished her song.

The thing I enjoyed the most about the class was being around songwriters, listening to them as they told us about and sang their songs. I can understand why artists form communities. It’s a rewarding experience to be around someone who knows what you’re going through as you explore ways to express yourself through word and song.

Oh, and one more huge takeaway – I plan to do this again next summer but may take even more classes from Common Ground on the Hill.

Josh Hisle – http://joshhisle.wix.com/music#!

Dan Collins – http://www.reverbnation.com/dancollinsmusic

Common Ground on the Hill’s Music & Arts Festival

We spent last weekend at the Carroll County Farm Museum attending the Music & Arts Festival. Yes, it was terribly hot, especially on Saturday, but we had a god time. The variety of live music was exceptional. Bluegrass, blues, Celtic, old time, classic rock … just about anything. Here are some pictures with more to follow in a separate post (these were taken with the iPad; the others on my phone).

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Who Turned up the Music?

I have gone instrument crazy over the past few weeks – musical instruments, by the way.  I guess I could blame this on The Deer Creek Fiddler’s Convention early in June, or I could throw the fault on Common Ground on the Hill and their Roots Festival last weekend.  But honestly, it’s all me.

I bought a used hammered dulcimer after the Fiddler’s Convention, and last weekend I bought a mountain dulcimer.  Jamie plays both (you recall Jamie, my boyfriend who is a musical wizard and who provides for my auto needs since he works at Mr. Tire).  All told, there were three trips to House of Musical Traditions in Takoma Park, one trip to Appalachian Bluegrass in Catonsville, and the weekend (yep, both days) at the Roots Festival at the Carroll County Farm Museum.  Lots of miles, lots of money.  Okay, not an exorbitant amount of money, but enough where I guess I’ll be going back on my Weight Watcher’s diet now (salad, salad, and more salad).

I love the string instruments.  Guitars are still my first love, of course, but now I’m going to open up my hands and fingers to other strings.  (Oh, did I mention I bought a mandolin last year after the Fiddler’s Convention and haven’t even started trying to learn that yet.)  Oops, I forgot about the ukulele I picked up also (thanks to Dee, my nephew’s wife who now plays).

Look at it this way – even if I don’t learn these fine musical things scattered all over my house, at least Josh will be able to sell them and get some money after I’m gone – right?  So I guess you could say I’m helping provide for him after I die?  Okay, that’s a stretch.

Anyway …

Thanks to Jamie I’m already learning a few songs on the hammered dulcimer.  And just like Jamie, I’ve become a hammer whore (his term, not mine).  Yep, you read that correctly – we are both hammer whores.  I think he’s got something like twenty or so pairs of hammered dulcimer hammers.  I’ve got ten pairs.  All different woods, all different handles, all different styles – all for different sounds on the strings.  The pair I’m loving right now is single-sided rosewood with a heart cut-out and circles on the hammer heads.  Stunning.  Handmade by Bob Bedard in Catoosa, OK.  Sweet guy – included a handwritten note when he shipped my other two pair of hammers.  I highly recommend his hammers – beautiful in looks, magnificent in sound.

And if you’re interested in hearing some great music on both types of dulcimers, check out Dan Lundrum (hammered dulcimer) and Bing Futch (mountain dulcimer – totally awesome!).

It’s 8:30 am, Saturday morning.  Buddy (my 9-year-old dachshund) is barking in the basement at the squirrels under the bird feeders.  I’ve got the deck door open.  Sunlight is filtering in through the trees behind the deck, crickets (locusts?) are doing their noisy thing in the woods, birds are chirping and singing to each other.  My coffee is still decently warm as I sip in-between writing this blog.  I’m waiting for delivery of my new mattress.  Josh is coming home from Atlanta later today.

Life is exceptionally good.

Just Checking In

Yesterday was Fathers Day.  My parents had a rib cookout with the family back home in Illinois.  I’ll find out on Sunday how everything went (it’s the day I usually talk to my mom and sister).  I’m sure it was great.  My dad is an excellent cook and exceptional with grilling.

Jamie’s out on the deck putting some new strings on my new-used hammered dulcimer – he’s replacing the low strings with wound strings to make it sound better.  He’s teaching me how to play.  I got the bug after the Deer Creek Fiddlers Convention a couple of weekends ago.  Now I can’t wait for the Music & Arts Festival at the Farm Museum the weekend of July 9-10.  David’s Dulcimers is supposed to bring a new stand that they’re holding for me.  It’s cherry and should match my dulcimer.  By the way, I named my hammered dulcimer Rohan (it’s got a red-stained top).  And my beautiful Martin did so well for me at the Convention that it finally gave me its name – Aiden.

I got an extremely wonderful surprise on Saturday that I can’t share with anyone (except for the few people who know about it) because it would probably get one of the involved parties in trouble.  Don’t you just love a mystery?

Josh is doing great with his dad in Atlanta.  He’s seeing what the working world is like – getting up early, getting home late – eat dinner, sleep, wake up, go to work, come home, eat sleep, get up … and on and on.

Other than this, not much is going on.  Work is really busy (budget season), I am constantly working in the yard on weekends (weeds never take a break), and I am already looking into what I play and/or sing at next year’s Fiddlers Convention.  A full life is a wonderful life.

Talk to me.